The Province of La Spezia is located in the Liguria region of Italy. Beaches that overlook the sea, spectacular views and small villages that dot the green valleys are all characteristic of La Spezia. The capital city of the province also called La Spezia, has a major naval base that is located at the head of the Golfo della Spezia, southeast of Genoa. The site was inhabited in Roman times, but little is known of its history before 1276, when it was sold to Genoa by the Fieschi family. The province became a maritime office during the French Empire era and also in the Duchy of Genoa era in the Kingdom of Sardinia. The province became an Italian naval headquarters after the transfer of the military fleet from Genoa in 1857 and, in 1923, it became the provincial capital. The province was severely damaged by bombing during World War II.
Notable landmarks include the medieval Castel S. Giorgio, a 15th-century cathedral (rebuilt after 1945) and the naval arsenal (1861–69, also rebuilt after 1945) adjacent to the naval museum. The archaeological museum has a collection of prehistoric monoliths cut in the form of human figures and Roman artifacts from the nearby ancient city of Luni. La Spezia’s industries include shipbuilding, iron foundries, oil refineries and mechanical engineering. It is also a terminus for natural gas shipments from Libya.
The warm Mediterranean air helps create good conditions for growing olives (producing exceptionally light flavored oil), wine grapes, corn, herbs (particularly basil), garlic, chickpeas, zucchini (especially the blossoms), potatoes, onions and artichokes.
The vineyards that cover the province’s sunny terraces are evidence of La Spezia’s ancient tradition of making wine. The Luni Hills, Levanto Hills and Cinque Terre wines are perfect with the local cuisine. Sciacchetrà, the famous D.O.C. wine, with hints of apricot, dried fruit and acacia honey, goes very well with the local sharp cheeses.
La Spezia also has vast expanses of olive groves on the coast and further inland. The oil produced in this area between the Alps and the Tyrrhenian Sea is protected by the Riviera Ligure D.O.P. label. The area’s oil is used in the preparation of most of the local dishes, especially the fish caught in the waters of the Ligurian Sea. Among such specialties are mussels stuffed with eggs, bread, mortadella, parmigiano, parsley and olive oil. The Monterosso anchovies, either sauteed with lemon juice, fried, stuffed or pickled are all popular in the province.
Mesciùa, a soup mixture of chickpeas, wheat, white beans, broad beans and lentils that are all boiled in olive oil, is a local favorite. Pizza, flatbread made with chickpeas, focaccias and handmade pasta are made in abundance, as well as, the trofie al pesto, now widespread throughout the province.
Culinary Specialties of La Spezia
Pasta With Chickpea Sauce
Chef Daniel Gritzer, says: “Using dried beans that are boiled with aromatics produces a more deeply flavored final sauce. The beans blend into a creamy sauce that coats the noodles, but doesn’t require dairy of any sort.”
- 12 ounces dried chickpeas, soaked overnight
- 1 large onion, cut in half
- 1 head garlic, 3 cloves thinly sliced, the rest left unpeeled
- 3 sprigs rosemary
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
- 1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- 4 cups cooked chickpeas, divided
- 1 1/2 cups chickpea-cooking liquid or vegetable broth, plus more as needed
- 1 pound short ruffled pasta
- 1/4 cup chopped parsley, plus more for garnish
Place chickpeas in a large pot and cover with lightly salted water by at least 2 inches. Add unpeeled garlic, onion and rosemary. Cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to a bare simmer and cook, adding water as necessary to keep beans submerged, until beans are very tender and creamy with no graininess left, about 2 hours. Discard onions, garlic and rosemary. Drain beans, reserving beans and liquid separately.
In a medium saucepan, combine oil, sliced garlic and red pepper flakes and set over medium heat. Cook, stirring, until garlic is lightly golden, about 3 minutes. Add 3 cups of the cooked chickpeas and most of the chickpea-cooking liquid and bring to a simmer. Remove from the heat and, using an immersion blender, blend to a smooth puree, adding more chickpea-cooking liquid if too thick. Stir in remaining 1 cup chickpeas, crushing some lightly with a wooden spoon or potato masher but leaving them mostly whole. Season with salt and pepper.
In a pot of salted, boiling water, cook pasta until just short of al dente. Reserve 1 cup of the pasta-cooking water, then drain the pasta. Return the cooked pasta to the pot and add the chickpea sauce along with 1/4 cup of the reserved pasta-cooking water. Set over medium heat and bring to a simmer, stirring until pasta is al dente and the sauce has thickened just enough to coat the pasta, about 3 minutes; add more reserved pasta-cooking water, 1 tablespoon at a time, if the sauce becomes too thick. Remove from the heat, stir in chopped parsley and drizzle in some fresh olive oil, stirring to blend. Season with salt and pepper. Spoon pasta and sauce into bowls, garnish with chopped parsley and serve immediately.
La Spezia Style Sea Bass
Chef Maurizio Quaranta roasts sea bass with olives and tomatoes until the fish is crisp. He then spoons toasted warm pine nuts over the fish before serving.
- 2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, peeled and sliced 1/2 inch thick
- 1 pound tomatoes, cut into large chunks
- 3/4 cup pitted and chopped green or black olives
- 1/4 cup torn basil leaves
- 1/2 cup plus 3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- Two 3-pound sea bass, cleaned
- 1/2 cup pine nuts
Preheat the oven to 425°F. In a very large roasting pan, toss the potatoes, tomatoes, olives and basil with 1/2 cup of the olive oil. Season with salt and pepper.
Make 3 shallow slashes in both sides of each fish. Rub each fish with 1 tablespoon of olive oil and season with salt and pepper. Place the fish in the roasting pan, tucking them into the vegetables. Roast for about 40 minutes, until the vegetables are tender and the fish are cooked through.
Meanwhile, in a small skillet, toast the pine nuts in the remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil over moderate heat, stirring, until golden, about 3 minutes. Spoon the pine nuts over the fish and vegetables in the roasting pan and serve right away.
Castagnaccio is a chestnut flour cake (castagna in Italian means chestnut) with raisins, pine nuts, walnuts and rosemary. The recipe does not use yeast, baking powder or sugar. According to food historians, the origin of this recipe goes back to the Ancient Romans, when a chestnut bread was made out of coarsely ground chestnuts and travelers’ and workers’ could pack the bread into their bags. Good chestnut flour is very sweet when you taste it raw (and this is why you do not need to add sugar to the castagnaccio). Taste your flour before using it. If you find it sour, this can be the result of two things: the flour is of poor quality or the flour is too old and has gone stale (chestnut flour doesn’t keep well. Purists only make castagnaccio in November-December, as the flour is prepared in October/November when chestnuts are available. In both cases, you can add some sugar to the mix to reduce the bitterness, but the final result may be inferior. Castagnaccio is best served with a cup of espresso or sweet wine like vin santo.
- 250g (1/2 pound) chestnut flour
- 2-3 cups water (500-700ml) – depending on the quality of the flour
- 1/3 cup (75g) raisins
- 1/4 cup (50g) pine nuts
- 5 whole walnuts (shelled and coarsely ground)
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 20 rosemary leaves
Pass the flour through a sieve and put it in a mixing bowl.
Add water to the mix slowly, while stirring. You want the batter to be soft enough to fall from the spoon, but not too liquid. Normally 2 1/2 cups (600ml) is the perfect amount of water, but you may need more or less.
Add the olive oil, the pine nuts, the walnuts, the raisin and mix them together thoroughly.
Oil a 9 inch round cake pan Pour the batter in.
Sprinkle the rosemary leaves on top of the batter. Do not stir: you want them to be visible.
Bake the castagnaccio at 400 degrees Fahrenheit (200 degrees Celsius) for 30-40 minutes.
Take the cake out of the oven and let it cool on a wire rack.
You can eat plain or with a tablespoon of ricotta cheese on top, which is how Italian families traditionally eat it.
Wrapped in plastic or foil, the cake will last 4-5 days, but it will dry out a bit.
Molise is a region of Southern Italy. Until 1963, it formed part of the region of Abruzzi. The split, which did not become effective until 1970, makes Molise the newest region in Italy. The region covers 4,438 square kilometres/1,714 sq mi making it the second smallest region in Italy with a population of about 300,000. The region is split into two provinces, named after their respective capitals, Isernia and Campobasso. Campobasso also serves as the regional capital.
Molise is also one of Italy’s less developed and poorest areas. In Molise, one can see two different centuries existing side by side when, on one side of the street grandmothers all in black are purchasing produce in the market and on the other side of the street there are young girls dressed in Benetton carrying mobile phones. Outside the cities are underdeveloped villages that seem to have been forgotten in time, while in the big cities progress is pushing ahead. However, one does not travel to Molise to explore the big cities but to enjoy the region’s natural beauty, the unspoiled beaches and the archaeological excavations.
More than 40% of Molise is covered by mountains. In the Matese area, located on the border of Campania, you will find magnificent mountain ranges. The region is also home to eagles, bears and wolves in the deep forests and it is one of the best locations to harvest mushrooms.
Though there is a large Fiat plant in Termoli, the industrial sector is dominated by the construction industry. With small and medium-sized farms spread widely throughout the region, food processing is another important industry. Pasta, meat, milk products, oil and wine are the traditional regional products. In the service sector the most important industries are distribution, hotels, catering, transport, communications, banking and insurance.
After the earthquake of 2002, some of the communities in Molise adopted a policy which contributed state money to individuals willing to make their homes more resistant to seismic activity. Larino, near Termoli, was a particular beneficiary of this policy and the town, already one of the most beautiful in the province, was transformed. The policy included returning the houses to their historical colors and, based on careful research, the structures were painted in a range of soft pastel tones. As a result, Larino has become an important center for tourism and scores of expatriates from all over the world are returning to live in the revived center. Larino is also famous for the Festa di San Pardo (Larino’s patron saint) and you will witness more than one hundred cattle drawn carts completely covered in flowers made by local families during the three days of festivities.
International tourism is becoming more prevalent as a result of the international flights from other European countries, Great Britain and North America which enter Pescara, not far to the north in Abruzzo. The tourists are attracted by large expanses of natural beaches, a relative lack of congestion and a gentle pace of life.
The cuisine of Molise is similar to the cuisine of Abruzzo, though there are a few differences in the dishes and ingredients. The flavors of Molise are dominated by the many herbs that grow there. Some of Molise’s typical foods include spicy salami, locally produced cheeses, lamb or goat, pasta dishes with hearty sauces and regional vegetables. In addition to bruschetta, a typical antipasto will consist of several meat dishes, such as sausage, ham and smoked prosciutto.
Main dishes of the region include:
- Calcioni di ricotta, a specialty of Campobasso, made of fried pasta stuffed with ricotta, provolone, prosciutto and parsley and usually served with fried artichokes, cauliflower, brains, sweetbreads, potato croquette and scamorza cheese
- Cavatiegl e Patane, gnocchi served in a meat sauce of rabbit and pork
- Pasta e fagioli, pasta-and-white-bean soup cooked with pig’s feet and pork rinds
- Polenta d’iragn, a polenta-like dish made of wheat and potatoes, sauced with tomatoes and pecorino
- Risotto alla marinara, a risotto with seafood
- Spaghetti with diavolillo, a chili pepper sauce
- Zuppa di cardi, a soup of cardoons, tomatoes, onions, pancetta and olive oil
- Zuppa di ortiche, a soup of nettle stems, tomatoes, onions, pancetta and olive oil
Typical vegetable dishes may include:
- Carciofi ripieni, artichokes stuffed with anchovies and capers
- Peeled sweet peppers stuffed with bread crumbs, anchovies, parsley, basil and peperoncino, sautéed in a frying pan and cooked with chopped tomatoes
- Cipollacci con pecorino, fried onions and pecorino cheese
- Frittata con basilico e cipolle, omelette with basil and onions
Fish dishes include red mullet soup and spaghetti with cuttlefish. Trout from the Biferno river is notable for its flavor and is cooked with a simple sauce of aromatic herbs and olive oil. Zuppa di pesce, a fish stew,is a specialty of Termoli.
The cheeses produced in Molise are not very different from those produced in Abruzzo. The more common ones are Burrino and Manteca – soft, buttery cow’s-milk cheeses, Pecorino – sheep’s-milk cheese, served young and soft or aged and hard, Scamorza – a bland cow’s-milk cheese, often served grilled and Caciocavallo – a sheep’s-milk cheese.
Sweets and desserts have an ancient tradition here and are linked to the history of the territory and to religious and family festivities. Most common are:
- Calciumi (also called Caucioni or cauciuni), sweet ravioli filled with chestnuts, almonds, chocolate, vanilla, cooked wine musts and cinnamon and then fried
- Ciambelline, ring-shaped cakes made with olive oil and red wine
- Ferratelle all’anice, anise cakes made in metal molds and stamped with special patterns
- Ricotta pizza, a cake pan filled with a blend of ricotta cheese, sugar, flour, butter, maraschino liqueur and chocolate chips
Traditional Molise Recipes
Polpi in Purgatorio
Spicy Octopus, Molise Style
- 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 10 sprigs Italian parsley, minced
- 2 teaspoons peperoncini, or more to taste
- 1 to 1 1/2 pounds young octopus
Clean the octopus in salted water and rinse well.
Heat half the oil in a medium skillet with a cover over medium heat. Add the onions, garlic, parsley and peperoncini and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions soften, 6 to 8 minutes.
Add the octopus to the onion mixture with the remaining oil. Season lightly with salt.
Cover the pan with a lid and cook over very low heat for 2 hours, stirring the octopus from time to time with a wooden spoon. Serve as an appetizer.
Baked Fettuccine with Tomato and Mozzarella
Fettucine con salsa d’aromi
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- 4 fresh mint leaves, finely chopped
- 8 fresh basil leaves, finely shredded
- 2 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
- 1-15 oz can Italian tomatoes, chopped
- 1/4 peperoncino or 1/4 teaspoon chili flakes, more or less to taste
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Pecorino Romano (or other pecorino)
- 1/4 lb scamorza (you can substitute mozzarella)
- 1 lb fettuccine
Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat and sauté garlic until golden.
Add basil, parsley, mint and peperoncino. Sauté a minute or two more.
Stir in the tomatoes, salt and pepper. Cook over medium-high heat (a fast bubble) stirring occasionally until the sauce thickens, about 15 minutes.
Meanwhile bring pot of salted water to the boil. Cook the pasta al dente. Do not overcook.
Preheat oven (while pasta cooks) to 425 degrees F.
Drain the pasta very well and mix with the sauce in the pan.
Transfer all to a greased ovenproof dish.
Sprinkle on the cheese and lay the slices of scamorza or mozzarella on top.
Bake for a few minutes until the cheese melts and bubbles. Serve hot.
Molise Style Stuffed Peppers
- 6 medium green bell peppers
- 5 cups day old bread, cut into small cubes
- 4 tablespoons fresh parsley, chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 small can anchovies, chopped
- 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for the filling
- Grated Parmigiano Reggiano
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Wash the peppers. Cut a hole around the stem. Remove the stem. Use a spoon to scoop out the seeds and ribs.
In a bowl, combine the bread, parsley, garlic and anchovies. Mix together. Sprinkle with olive oil and toss to coat; do not saturate the bread with oil. Fill the peppers evenly with the stuffing.
Put 1/2 cup of olive oil in a baking pan. Lay the peppers on their sides in the pan. Bake for 20 minutes, turning occasionally to cook evenly.
Sprinkle each pepper fresh Parmigiano Reggiano at the end of the cooking time and allow it to melt over the pepper.
Calzoni d’Isernia are named after the town of Isernia in Molise
Makes 12 Calzones
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- Pinch of salt
- 2 large eggs, slightly beaten
- 1/4-1/2 cup water
- 4 ounces pancetta
- 8 ounces ricotta cheese
- 2 egg yolks
- 1 cup mozzarella, grated or diced into small cubes
- 1 teaspoon chopped parsley
- Pinch of salt
- Pinch of pepper
Oil for frying
Marinara sauce for serving
In a large bowl, combine the flour and salt. Add the whole eggs and mix into the flour. Add 1/4 to 1/2 cup of water slowly until all the flour is incorporated. Don’t add too much water or the dough will become sticky. Once the dough is formed, knead for about 5 minutes.
Roll out the dough on a floured surface to about 1/8 inch thickness. Cut the dough into squares that are 4 inches by 4 inches. You should be able to get about 12 squares.
For the filling:
Cook the pancetta in a skillet over medium-high heat for a few minutes until well browned. Cool.
Combine the ricotta, egg yolks, mozzarella, pancetta, parsley, salt and pepper together in a mixing bowl.
Place some of the filling in the center of each square of dough. Fold the dough over to form a triangle. Use the tines of a fork to pinch together the seams of the dough. Be careful not to over-stuff the dough or the filling will come out during frying.
Fill a heavy-bottomed pot with about 3 inches of oil. Heat oil to 350 degrees F. Once the oil is hot, drop the calzones in (1 at a time if using a smaller pot, or just a few at a time using a larger pot).
Remove the calzones with a slotted spoon or spider when they have gotten a golden brown color on both sides. Let them drain on a paper towel.
Serve warm with marinara sauce, if desired.
Calciuni del Molise
Adapted from Italian Regional Cooking by Ada Boni, published 1969, Dutton (New York) (Note: this was the first cookbook I owned.)
Makes 15 fritters
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 egg yolks
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon white wine
- 1/4 pound fresh chestnuts
- 1 1/2 tablespoons slivered almonds, toasted
- 1 1/4 teaspoons semi-sweet chocolate
- 2 teaspoons honey
- 1 tablespoon Amaretto liqueur
- 1 pinch cinnamon
- 1/4 teaspoon vanilla extract
Oil for frying
Powdered sugar for garnish
Cinnamon for garnish
Put the flour in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and add the egg yolks, water, wine and olive oil. Mix the components slowly until a dough has formed. Once the dough is formed, put it on a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth. Cover the dough and set aside. (You can also do this in an electric mixer.)
Using a paring knife make an X on one side of each chestnut. Bring a pot of water to a boil. Add the chestnuts and let boil for about 10 minutes. Drain the chestnuts and remove the shell and the skin from the chestnuts.
In a food processor, chop the toasted almonds until finely ground. Add the chestnuts and continue to grind until no large pieces remain.
Put the ground chestnuts and almonds in a bowl. Grind the chocolate in the food processor until no large pieces remain. Add to the chestnuts and almonds.
Add the honey, Amaretto, cinnamon and vanilla to the nut/chocolate mixture. Stir well.
Roll the dough out on a floured surface to about 1/8 inch thick. Using a 3-4 inch circle cookie cutter or drinking glass, cut out circles from the dough. You should be able to get 15 rounds.
Place about 1 tablespoon in the center of each circle. Do not overfill the pastries. Fold one end over and pinch tightly around the edges to close. Seal edges completely so the filling does not come out while frying.
Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed pan. Fry the fritters, a few at a time, until golden brown on each side. Remove with a slotted spoon or spider and place on a paper towels to drain.
Arrange on a plate and sprinkle with powdered sugar and cinnamon.
Just because the farmers’ markets are closed for winter doesn’t mean you have to do without fresh veggies at the dinner table. Unfortunately, in the winter months, we often retreat from fresh produce, thinking it’s not as available or as tasty. From hearty root vegetables to bright, sweet citrus, winter produce delivers a surprising range of flavorful fruits and vegetables for you to cook. You may be surprised by how many locally grown root vegetables and cabbages are available from cold storage and how many greens are coming out of local cold frames and greenhouses at this time of year. Here are some recipes from appetizers through dessert that use winter fruits and vegetables.
Winter Vegetable Soup
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 large onion, thinly sliced
- 2 leeks, white and tender green parts only, thinly sliced
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 1 cup pearled barley
- 8 cups vegetable broth
- 4 cups water
- 10 thyme sprigs
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 1/2 pounds celery root, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes
- 1 pound parsnips, peeled and cut into 1/2-inch pieces
- Salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 pound baby spinach
- 1 teaspoon freshly grated nutmeg
In a large pot, heat the oil. Add the onion, leeks and garlic and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until tender, about 5 minutes. Stir in the barley. Add the vegetable broth, water, thyme and bay leaves and bring to a boil.
Add the celery root and parsnips and season with salt and pepper. Simmer over moderately low heat until the barley and root vegetables are tender, about 40 minutes.
Stir in the spinach and nutmeg and simmer for 5 minutes. Season the soup with salt and pepper to taste and serve in deep bowls.
Seafood with Grapefruit-Onion Salad
8 First Course Servings
- 4 small ruby red grapefruits (about 2 pounds total)
- 3 tablespoons pickled cocktail onions
- 2 tablespoons packed flat-leaf parsley leaves
- Freshly ground pepper
- 24 sea scallops or medium shrimp (about 2 pounds) or a combination of both
- Kosher salt
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
Using a very sharp paring knife to peel the grapefruits, carefully removing all of the bitter white pith. Over a mixing bowl, carefully cut in between the membranes of the grapefruit sections and let them drop into the bowl. Stir in the pickled cocktail onions and parsley leaves and season with pepper.
Pat the sea scallops or shrimp dry and season them all over with salt. In a large nonstick skillet, heat the olive oil until it is shimmering. Cook the scallops over moderately high heat, turning once, until they are browned and just cooked through, about 4 minutes total. Spoon the pickled onion and grapefruit salad onto small serving plates and arrange the scallops around the salad. Drizzle with additional olive oil and serve at once.
Stuffed and Baked Acorn Squash
- 4 acorn squash (about 1 pound each), halved lengthwise and seeded
- 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for brushing
- Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
- 1 1/2 cups diced celery
- 2 leeks, halved lengthwise and sliced crosswise 1/4 inch thick
- 2 Granny Smith apples, peeled and diced
- 2 teaspoons finely chopped thyme
- 10 ounces day-old rustic bread—crusts removed, bread cut into 1/2-inch dice (about 6 cups)
- 7 ounces vacuum-packed cooked chestnuts
- 1/2 cup chopped parsley
- 1/3 cup heavy cream
- 1/3 cup vegetable stock or chicken broth
Preheat the oven to 350°F. Brush the cut sides of the squash with olive oil and season the cavities with salt and pepper. Place the squash cut side down on two baking sheets covered with parchment paper and roast for about 25 minutes, until just tender.
In a large skillet, melt the butter in the 1 tablespoon of olive oil. Add the celery, leeks and a generous pinch each of salt and pepper and cook over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 8 minutes.
Add the apples and thyme and cook over moderately high heat until the apples just start to soften, about 5 minutes. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl. Add the bread, chestnuts, parsley, cream and stock and toss well. Season with salt and pepper.
Turn the squash cut side up. Spoon the stuffing into the cavities and bake until the squash are tender and the stuffing is golden brown, about 20 minutes. Transfer to plates and serve.
Braised Beef over Butternut Squash Polenta
- 2 pounds boneless beef chuck shoulder pot roast
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 2 stalks celery, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 3 medium carrots, cut into 2-inch pieces
- 3 medium parsnips (about 12 ounces), peeled and cut into 2-inch pieces
- 1/2 cup coarsely chopped onion (1 medium)
- 1/2 cup dry red wine
- 2 teaspoons snipped fresh rosemary
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1 cup beef broth
- 2 teaspoons browning and seasoning sauce, such as Kitchen Bouquet
- 1/3 cup milk
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 cup cold water
- 3/4 cup polenta or yellow cornmeal
- 2/3 cup butternut squash, fresh cooked or frozen and thawed
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper
- 1/4 cup cold water
- 1 1/2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- Fresh parsley leaves
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F. Trim fat from beef. Cut meat into 1 1/2-inch pieces.
In an ovenproof 4-quart Dutch oven heat 1 tablespoon of the oil over medium heat. Cook meat, half at a time, until browned, stirring frequently. Remove meat from the Dutch oven.
In the same Dutch oven cook celery, carrots, parsnips and onion in the remaining oil for 5 to 7 minutes or until the vegetables start to brown. Stir in wine and rosemary.
Add the 1 1/2 cups water, beef broth and Kitchen Bouquet; cook and stir over medium heat until boiling, stirring to scrape up any browned bits from the bottom of the Dutch oven.
Place pan, covered, in the oven and bake about 2 hours or until the meat is very tender.
For the polenta:
In a medium saucepan combine milk and 1/4 cup water; bring to boiling. In a medium bowl stir together the 1 cup cold water and polenta or cornmeal. Slowly add the polenta mixture to the boiling milk mixture. Reduce heat to medium low. Stir in squash, salt and pepper.
Cook for 25 to 30 minutes or until mixture is very thick, stirring frequently, and adjusting heat as needed to maintain a slow boil.
To finish the stew:
Stir together the 1/4 cup cold water and flour. Add to the meat mixture. Cook and stir over medium heat until thickened and bubbly; cook and stir for 1 minute more.
Spoon soft polenta into shallow serving bowls. Top with braised meat and vegetables. Sprinkle with parsley leaves.
Upside-Down Cranberry-Ginger Cake
- Cooking spray
- 3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
- 2 tablespoons butter
- 1 tablespoon grated peeled fresh ginger
- 3 cups fresh cranberries
- 1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 cup butter, softened
- 1 cup granulated sugar
- 2 large egg yolks
- 1/2 cup milk
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
- 2 large egg whites
- 1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
Preheat oven to 350° F.
For the topping:
Heat a 9-inch round cake pan over medium heat and coat the pan with cooking spray. Add brown sugar and the 2 tablespoons butter to pan, stirring until melted. Stir in ginger; cook 1 minute, stirring constantly. Remove from heat; arrange cranberries on top of the brown sugar mixture.
For the cake:
Lightly spoon flour into a dry measuring cup; level with a knife. Combine flour, baking powder and salt.
Combine 1/4 cup butter and granulated sugar in an electric mixer bowl; beat at high speed until fluffy. Add egg yolks, 1 at a time, beating well after each addition. Add the flour mixture and milk alternately to butter mixture, beginning and ending with the flour mixture; mix well after each addition. Beat in vanilla.
Beat egg whites and cream of tartar with a mixer at medium speed until stiff peaks form in another bowl. Fold egg whites into batter; pour batter over cranberries in the prepared cake pan.
Bake for 55 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool in the pan 15 minutes; run a knife around outside edge. Place a plate upside down on top of the cake pan; invert cake onto plate.
Although sweet potatoes may be part of the Thanksgiving tradition, be sure to add these naturally sweet vegetables to your meals throughout the year; they are some of the most nutritious vegetables around. Sweet potatoes can be found in your local market year-round, however they are in season in November and December.
They also have many health benefits.
1. They are high in vitamin B6.
2. They are a good source of vitamin C.
3. They contain Vitamin D.
4. Sweet potatoes contain iron.
5. Sweet potatoes are a good source of magnesium.
6. They are a source of potassium.
7. Sweet potatoes are sweet-tasting but their natural sugars are slowly released into the bloodstream.
8. Their rich orange color indicates that they are high in beta carotene and other carotenoids.,
In the U.S., there is often much confusion between sweet potatoes and yams. They are completely different foods, belonging to different plant families. This confusion exists for two reasons. First, as a shopper, it is possible for you to find sweet potatoes and yams that look reasonably alike in terms of size, skin color and flesh color. Second, government agencies have allowed these terms to be used interchangeably on labeling, so that you often cannot rely on the grocery store signs to help you determine whether you are looking at a bin full of sweet potatoes or a bin full of yams. For example, in many stores you can find bins that are labeled “Red Garnet Yams” and “Jewel Yams” and the foods in these bins are actually sweet potatoes.
Here are some general practical rules that you can follow:
- In most U.S. groceries, you should assume that you are always purchasing a sweet potato, even if the sign says “yams.” Over 1 million sweet potatoes are commercially grown in the U.S. each year, while commercial production of yams in the U.S. is rare.
- Don’t use flesh color to decide whether you are getting a sweet potato or a yam. Both root vegetables come in a variety of colors. Once again, you should assume that you are getting a sweet potato regardless of the flesh color.
- If you are seeking a true yam (from the plant genus Dioscorea), it might be helpful to visit a more internationally focused store that specializes in foods from tropical countries.
The sweet potato is a tropical plant that was brought to Italy and Spain by Columbus. From there it spread to Austria, Germany, Belgium and England. Within the U.S., over half of all commercially grown sweet potatoes come from the southern states (especially North Carolina).
Choose sweet potatoes that are firm and do not have any cracks, bruises or soft spots. Avoid those that are displayed in the refrigerated section of the produce department since cold temperatures negatively alter their taste.
Sweet potatoes should be stored in a cool, dark and well-ventilated place (in a brown paper bag with multiple air holes punched in it) where they will keep fresh for up to ten days. They should not be kept in the refrigerator.
Try them roasted, mashed, steamed, baked or grilled. You can add them to soups and stews or grill and place on top of leafy greens for a delicious salad. Puree them and add to smoothies and baked goods.
Sweet Potato-Sausage Soup
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large yellow onion, diced large
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- Salt and pepper
- 3/4 pound sweet or hot Italian sausage, casings removed
- 2 sweet potatoes (1 pound total), peeled and diced
- 4 cups chicken broth
- 3/4 cup small pasta shells
- 4 cups roughly chopped mixed greens, such as kale, Swiss chard or spinach
- Grated Parmesan cheese, for serving
In a large pot, heat oil over medium-high. Add onion and garlic and cook until onion is translucent, about 6 minutes; season with salt and pepper. Add sausage and cook, breaking up meat with a wooden spoon, until browned, about 5 minutes.
Add sweet potatoes, broth and 2 cups water and bring to a boil. Add pasta and cook 3 minutes less than the package instructions. Reduce to a simmer, add greens and cook until the pasta is tender and greens are wilted, about 4 minutes. Serve with Parmesan.
Sweet Potato Frittata
The peppers and sweet potatoes can be cooked ahead of time.
- 1 red pepper, roasted and thinly sliced
- 1 yellow pepper, roasted and thinly sliced
- 2 pounds (about 3) sweet potatoes
- 5 whole eggs
- 5 egg whites (or refrigerated egg substitute)
- Salt and black pepper, to taste
- 1 teaspoon dried Italian seasoning
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 1 large onion, sliced
- 1 bunch (about 6 ounces) greens, blanched and chopped
- 1/4 cup crumbled Feta cheese (plus more to garnish)
- Chopped fresh parsley
Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
Char the peppers on an open fire or under the broiler. Steam them for five minutes in a bag or covered bowl and peel. Seed them, then cut into 1/4-inch strips.
Bake potatoes in the oven or in the microwave until they are tender. Allow them to cool to room temperature. When the potatoes have cooled, peel them and cut into 1/4-inch slices.
Beat whole eggs, egg whites and Italian seasoning together and season with salt and black pepper.
Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a large, 10-inch ovenproof sauté pan. Add the onions and sauté until brown. Remove to a bowl and season onions with salt and pepper.
Return sauté pan to the stove on medium heat and add the remaining olive oil. Add a layer of potatoes, followed by 1/3 of the onions, peppers and greens. Pour a third of the egg mixture over the vegetables. Repeat until all of the ingredients are in the pan. You may need to push the layers of the frittata down gently so that all of the ingredients are covered by the egg mixture. Sprinkle top with feta cheese.
Place the pan in the oven for 20 to 25 minutes or until the eggs are set and the top is golden brown.
Slide onto a warm serving platter, garnish with chopped parsley and additional feta cheese. Cool for five minutes. Slice and serve.
Sweet Potato Gnocchi
Serves 8 as a First Course
- 1 1/4 lb russet (baking potatoes)
- 1 (3/4-lb) sweet potato
- 1 large egg
- 1/2 teaspoon grated nutmeg
- 1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano plus more for serving
- 1 1/2 to 2 cups all-purpose flour plus more for dusting
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1 cup sage leaves
- 1/3 cup bottled roasted chestnuts, very thinly sliced with a sharp vegetable peeler
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
Preheat oven to 450°F with the oven rack in middle.
Pierce potatoes in several places with a fork, then bake in a 4-sided pan until just tender, 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Cool potatoes slightly, then peel and force through a ricer into a sheet pan, spreading in an even layer. Cool potatoes completely.
Lightly flour 2 or 3 large baking sheets or line with parchment paper.
Beat together egg, nutmeg, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper in a small bowl.
Scoop potatoes into a mound in the sheet pan, using a pastry scraper, if you have one, and form a well in the center.
Pour egg mixture into the well, then mix into the potatoes. Mix in cheese and 1 1/2 cups flour, then knead, adding more flour as necessary, until mixture forms a smooth but slightly sticky dough. Dust top lightly with some flour.
Cut dough into 6 pieces. Form 1 piece of dough into a 1/2-inch-thick rope on a lightly floured surface. Cut rope into 1/2-inch pieces. Gently roll each piece into a ball and lightly dust with flour. Repeat with remaining 5 pieces of dough.
Turn a fork over and hold at a 45-degree angle, with the tips of tines touching work surface. Working with 1 at a time, roll gnocchi down the fork tines, pressing with your thumb, to make ridges on 1 side. Transfer gnocchi as formed to floured baking sheets.
SAGE LEAVES AND CHESTNUTS:
Heat oil in a 12-inch heavy skillet over medium heat until it shimmers. Fry sage leaves in 3 batches, stirring, until they turn just a shade lighter and crisp (they will continue to crisp as they cool), about 30 seconds per batch. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Season lightly with salt.
Fry chestnuts in 3 batches, stirring, until golden and crisp, about 30 seconds per batch. Transfer to paper towels to drain. Season lightly with salt. Reserve oil in the skillet.
Add butter to oil in the skillet with 1/2 teaspoon salt and cook until golden-brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Remove from heat.
Add half of the gnocchi to a pasta pot of well-salted boiling water and stir. Cook until they float to the surface, about 3 minutes. Transfer with a slotted spoon to the skillet with the butter sauce. Cook remaining gnocchi in same manner, transferring to the skillet as cooked.
Heat gnocchi in the skillet over medium heat, stirring to coat.
Serve sprinkled with fried sage and chestnuts and grated cheese.
Italian Pork Tenderloin with Roasted Sweet Potatoes
- 1 tablespoon olive
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
- 1 clove garlic, finely chopped (about 1/2 teaspoon)
- 2 medium sweet potatoes (about 1 lb), peeled, cut into 1-inch chunks
- 1 medium yellow onion, cut into 8 wedges each
- 2 pork tenderloins (about 3/4 to 1 lb each)
- 1/2 tablespoon olive
- 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning
- 1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt
- 1 tablespoon grated Parmesan cheese
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh parsley, if desired
Heat oven to 425°F.
In large bowl, mix the 1 tablespoon oil, 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, 1/4 teaspoon salt and the garlic together. Add the sweet potatoes and onions; toss to coat. Spread in a 9×13-inch pan. Roast uncovered 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, brush pork tenderloins with the 1/2 tablespoon oil. In a small bowl, stir together 1 teaspoon Italian seasoning, 1/4 teaspoon seasoned salt and the Parmesan cheese.
Move vegetables to the center of the baking pan; place one pork tenderloin on each side. Sprinkle seasoning mixture evenly over pork.
Roast uncovered 20 to 25 minutes longer or until thermometer reads 155°F. Cover pan with foil; let stand 5 minutes or until thermometer reads 160°F. (Temperature will continue to rise about 5°F, and pork will be easier to carve.)
Cut pork into 1-inch-thick slices; arrange on a platter with sweet potatoes and onions. Sprinkle with parsley.
Sweet Potato Latte
- 1 small sweet potato
- 1 ¼ cups unsweetened almond milk
- 1 tablespoon packed brown sugar
- 1/2 teaspoon instant espresso coffee crystals
- 1/8-1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
- Ground cinnamon
- Cinnamon stick
Prick sweet potato several times with a fork. Wrap potato in a damp paper towel. Microwave on 100 percent power (high) for 3 minutes. Turn potato over; microwave for 2 to 3 minutes more or until tender. Cool slightly. Remove and discard peel. Mash potato with a fork; measure 1/3 cup. Save any remainder for another use.
In a blender combine the 1/3 cup mashed sweet potato, almond milk, brown sugar, coffee and 1/8 to 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon (according to taste). Cover and blend on high-speed for 1 minute.
Strain through a fine-mesh sieve into a small saucepan. Cook and stir over medium-low heat until heated through. Transfer to a heat-proof mug. If desired, sprinkle with additional ground cinnamon and garnish with a cinnamon stick. Makes one serving.
- Got Sweet Potatoes? Here are 10 Ways to Cook With Them (onegreenplanet.org)
- Sweet Potato Pizza Crust | Vegan & Gluten-Free (blissfulbasil.com)
- Pork Milanese with Mashed Sweet Potato (recipeforfood.biz)
Milan is the home of Italy’s stock exchange, the Gothic cathedral – the Duomo, one of Europe’s biggest trade-fair complexes, famous nightclubs, the prestigious opera house, La Scala, A.C. Milan (football) and endless opportunities to eat the best of Lombard’s Italian food. Milan is also the fashion icon of Italy and houses millions of residents in this northern city located south of the Italian Alps. Milan is very close to several other cities, such as Venice and Florence, and attractions, such as the Alpine ski slopes or the seashore villages of Liguria and Cinque Terre. The fashion quarter is not only known for major designers in the industry, such as, Valentino, Gucci, Kenzo and Yves Saint Laurent but, also, for many small boutique stores and fashionable shops.
Milan’s cuisine features many specialties. Pasta dishes, such as “tortelli di zucca”, which is ravioli stuffed with pumpkin, “zuppa pavese” (broth with bread and eggs) and “zuppa di porri e bietole” (soup made with leeks and swiss chard). Polenta topped with mushrooms or meat sauce is typically served during the winter. Risotto alla Milanese, Osso Buco, breaded veal cutlet, pork chops or roast beef are typical main dishes. Cheese is a must on the Milanese table at the end of the meal. The cheeses that are eaten in Milan come from the surrounding countryside and alpine valleys. Among the most popular are Bagoss, Brescia cheese, Caprini, Crescenza or Stracchino, soft cheeses flavored with mountain herbs and, of course, Gorgonzola, eaten alone or served over risotto and polenta. You will notice that the dishes in Milan are based on more high calorie ingredients such as butter and sausages, supposedly due to the fact that the winters are long.
Polenta e Gorgonzola
- 1/2 cup walnuts
- 1 cup gorgonzola blue cheese
- Chopped herbs, such as rosemary or sage
- Coarse ground black pepper
For the polenta:
- 13 oz polenta (not quick cooking)
- 7 cups water or milk or a combination
- 4 tablespoons butter
- 2 teaspoons salt
Boil the water and/or the milk, add salt and butter.
Pour the polenta into the boiling water, slowly and mixing well with a whisk.
Cover and let simmer over low heat for 60 minutes.
Grease a large baking tray and pour the polenta onto the pan, spreading it with a spatula: it should be around 1/4 inch thick, let it cool.
With a decorative 2 inch cookie or biscuit cutter make 24 circles.
Spread the gorgonzola cheese over half of the circles, cover with the other half and decorate with a walnut on the top, herbs and black pepper.
Serve warm, heating for 5 minutes in the oven
Leek and Swiss Chard Soup – Zuppa Di Porri E Bietole
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 leeks, white and light green parts, cut into 1/2-inch slices
- 8 ounces swiss chard, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 6 cups stock ( vegetable or chicken)
- 1/2 cup Arborio rice
- Salt, to taste
- Pepper, to taste
- 1/4 cup parmesan cheese, grated
In a large saucepan over low heat, cook the leeks in the butter and oil until tender and golden.
Add the Swiss chard and stock and bring to a simmer.
Cook until the chard wilts, about 10 minutes.
Add the rice, salt and pepper.
Cover and cook over low heat about 20 minutes or until the rice is cooked.
Stir in cheese and serve.
Italian Roast Turkey with Chestnut Stuffing
During the autumn season in Italy, turkey is often made with a stuffing of chestnuts and sausage. The wild turkey was brought to Europe from the New World and, once domesticated, became one of the large courtyard fowl animals in Lombardy. With Italy being one of the largest producers of chestnuts, it was natural to use them in a stuffing.
- Chestnut Stuffing, (recipe below)
- 1 12-to-14-pound turkey
- 1 lemon, cut in half
- 2 teaspoons chopped fresh rosemary
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh sage
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground pepper, to taste
- 4 slices bacon
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup dry white wine
- 3 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
- 2 tablespoons water
- 1 tablespoon cornstarch
Make Chestnut Stuffing.
Preheat oven to 325°F. Coat a large roasting pan and a 2-quart baking dish with cooking spray.
Remove the giblets, neck and any visible fat from the turkey. Rub the cavity with lemon halves, squeezing them as you go. Make a few tiny slits in the skin under the wings, where the legs join the body and in the thickest part of the breast. Stuff each slit with a piece of rosemary and sage.
Stuff the cavity and neck pouch with about 5 cups of the stuffing, securing the neck cavity with a skewer. Place remaining stuffing in the prepared baking dish; cover and refrigerate until needed.
Sprinkle the turkey with salt and pepper. Place bacon slices across the breast. Tie the drumsticks together.
Place the turkey, breast-side up, in the prepared roasting pan. Roast for 1 hour. Pour the wine over the turkey and baste a few times. Continue to roast for 2 hours more, basting with the pan juices several times and roast until the turkey is done, an additional 30 to 60 minutes. (An instant-read thermometer inserted in the thickest part of the thigh should register 180°F and 165°F in the stuffing.) Total cooking time will be 3 1/2 to 4 hours.
About 40 minutes before the turkey is ready, cover the reserved stuffing with a lid or foil and bake until heated through, 35 to 45 minutes. If you like a crisp top, uncover for the last 15 minutes of baking.
When the turkey is ready, place it on a carving board or platter. Scoop stuffing into a serving bowl, cover and keep warm. Tent the turkey with foil.
Place the roasting pan over medium heat and pour in the broth; bring to a boil, stirring to scrape up any browned bits. Cook for 5 minutes and transfer to a medium saucepan. Bring to a simmer. Mix water and cornstarch in a small bowl; add to the simmering sauce, whisking until lightly thickened.
Remove string from the drumsticks and carve the turkey. Serve with stuffing and gravy.
- Two 7 1/2-ounce jars vacuum-packed cooked chestnuts
- 8 cups cubed country bread, (1 pound)
- 12 oz sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1/2 pound mushrooms, wiped clean, trimmed and sliced
- 1 small fennel bulb, diced
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh sage
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
- 2 large eggs
- 1-1 1/2 cups reduced-sodium chicken broth
Break the chestnut meat into chunks. Preheat oven to 350°F.
Spread bread on a baking sheet and bake until lightly toasted, 15 to 25 minutes. Set aside.
Cook sausage in a large skillet over medium heat, crumbling with a wooden spoon, until browned, 5 to 10 minutes. Drain on paper towels. Wipe out the skillet.
Add oil to the skillet and heat over medium-low heat. Add onions and cook, stirring, until softened, about 5 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until fragrant, about 1 minute more. Add mushrooms and fennel and increase heat to medium-high; cook, stirring, until tender, 5 to 7 minutes.
Combine the reserved chestnuts, toasted bread, sausage, onion-mushroom mixture, parsley, thyme, sage, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Toss until well mixed.
Whisk eggs and 1 cup broth in a small bowl. Drizzle the egg mixture over the bread mixture and toss until evenly moistened. If you like a moist stuffing, add remaining 1/2 cup broth.
Use as directed in Roast Turkey with Chestnut Stuffing or place in a 3-quart baking dish that has been coated with cooking spray, cover with a lid or foil and bake at 325°F until heated through, 35 to 45 minutes. If you like a crisp top, uncover for the last 15 minutes of baking.
Broccoli with Orange Sauce
- 1 1/4 pounds fresh broccoli, cut into serving pieces
- 2 teaspoons cornstarch
- 1/4 cup chicken broth
- Juice of 1 medium orange
- 1 teaspoon orange peel, grated
- 1 medium navel orange, peeled and thinly sliced
Cook the broccoli in a saucepan in a small amount of salted water for about eight minutes. Drain the broccoli in a colander and place it in a serving bowl.
In the empty saucepan combine the cornstarch, chicken broth, orange juice and orange peel and stir until mixture is blended. Then bring to a boil and stir for two minutes or until it thickens. Drizzle the sauce over the broccoli. Garnish with orange slices before serving.
Fresh Pear Crostata
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 3 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 4 cups chopped peeled ripe pears (about 8 medium)
- One 9 inch refrigerated pie crust, or your favorite pie crust
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 2 tablespoons sliced almonds
Heat the oven to 450°F. In medium bowl, mix the 1/2 cup sugar and the flour. Gently stir in the pears to coat.
Place the pie crust on a parchment lined 15×10 inch pan with sides.
Spoon the pear mixture onto center of the crust to within 2 inches of the edge. Carefully fold the 2-inch edge of crust up over pear mixture, pleating crust slightly as you go along the circle. Sprinkle 1 teaspoon sugar over the crust edge.
Bake 15 minutes and sprinkle almonds over the pear mixture. Continue to bake 5 more minutes until the pears are tender and the crust is golden. Cool 15 minutes. Cut into wedges; serve warm.
Lake Bolsena is a crater lake of volcanic origin in central Italy, which began to form 370,000 years. It is the largest volcanic lake in Europe and is the fifth largest lake in Italy with a circumference of over 26 miles (43 km). Lake Bolsena’s bed was formed from a caldera in the extinct Vulsini volcano. A caldera is a volcanic feature formed by the collapse of land following a volcanic eruption. The underlying rock in the area where the lake formed, the caldera, collapsed into a deep bowl. This bowl was gradually filled by rain water and underwater sources.
Roman historical records indicate volcanic activity last occurred there in 104 BC and it has been dormant since then. The two islands, Bisentina and Martana, in the southern part of the lake, were formed by underwater eruptions following the collapse that created the caldera.
The lake is fed primarily by underground springs and rainwater and has a single outlet, the river Marta that flows into the Tyrrhenian Sea, in the vicinity of Tarquinia. The lake has an oval shape, typical of crater lakes. The long axis of the ellipse is aligned in a north-south direction. The entire lake is surrounded by hills and is a good vacation spot. It has beaches, a harbor, restaurants, hotels and a medieval historic center surrounded by walls with a castle at the top. On the lake one can enjoy water sports, from canoeing, water skiing, sailing to surfing. Unlike most lakes, Lake Bolsena displays tidelike movements, called “sessa” with the difference between low and high tides being as much as 50 cm or 20 inches.
Lake Bolsena is north of Rome in the Northern Lazio region, just south of Tuscany. Bolsena, the main town on the lake, is on the northeastern shore. In the 7th century BC, it was the site of a Villanovan settlement whose huts were built on stilts directly over the water, using reed platforms, hay roofs and cobbled floors. About four hundred years later, it was settled by the Etruscans after they fled from the Roman destruction of Velzna in 264 BC. Velzna eventually became Volsinii, a Latin name which has been transformed over the centuries into Bolsena.
The Rocca Monaldeschi della Cervara sits at the top of the hill, overlooking the medieval quarter of the town. The castle was built between the 12th and 14th centuries. It has been completely renovated and, since 1991, has housed the Museo Territoriale del Lago di Bolsena (Lake Bolsena Territorial Museum). Each of its three floors is dedicated to various aspects of Bolsena’s history, ranging from its prehistoric volcanic origins to its Etruscan-Roman period. The Church of St. Christine is the town’s other major site. It is a Romanesque church built in 1078 in a typical basilica style over the catacombs where St. Christine, a young woman martyred during the reign of the Roman Emperor Diocletian, was buried.
The territory of Lake Bolsena brings with it a whole host of ancient traditions that are also reflected in the local cuisine, with flavors and products typical of their ancient recipes and cooking methods. It is also famous for its clear lake waters and the nickname “the lake with a drink. Long ago, lake water was used in cooking. Fishermen prepared the Sbroscia in a clay pot using freshly caught fish; it was one of the few means of survival, when they had little more than what the lake could offer. It was prepared within the small hut on the shore that was used as a refuge and as a warehouse for their supplies.
Acquacotta is the name of a typical local soup prepared with chicory, potatoes, tomatoes, onions, hot pepper, dried cod, dry bread and olive oil. Other soups of the local cuisine are made with mushrooms, legumes, chestnuts, lake fish (sbroscia) and lamb. First courses often include rice and lentils, pasta and potatoes, rice and chicory, peas with quadrucci (small squares of hand-made egg pasta) and “minestrone alla Viterbese”.
Pasta dishes include maccheroni, ceciliani, lombrichelli (made with only flour and water), potato gnocchi, fettuccine, pappardelle, gavinelle or polenta. These dishes are often served with a classic ragout – meat sauces prepared with hare, wild boar, mushrooms, spare ribs and pork sausages or, in summer, with fresh garden vegetables, such as: zucchini, eggplant, turnip greens or sweet peppers.
For main courses, rabbit alla cacciatora, stewed chicken with tomatoes, wild boar with tomato sauce, stewed hare, baked lamb, tripe with tomato sauce, fried coratella (veal intestines), roasted pork or pignattaccia (a stew made with meat and vegetables) are most common. Main fish dishes, prepared with lake fish, include: fried perch fillets, stewed eels, fried lattarini, stewed or fried pike and baked or grilled whitefish.
Typical desserts include: sweet ravioli made with ricotta, ciambellone (simple white cakes), tarts made with ricotta or jam, crunchy biscuits and cookies made with hazelnuts and sweetened fritters made with rice.
Chickpea and Chestnut Soup
This ancient soup recipe of chickpeas and chestnuts is one of the typical dishes of the area.
- 1.5 cups dried chickpeas
- 1 oz pancetta
- 10 ½ oz chestnuts, chopped
- 4 peeled tomatoes
- 4 cups chicken or vegetable broth
- Extra virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves of garlic,
- 1 sprig of rosemary
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 bay leaf
Cover the chickpeas with water in a bowl and soak for about 24 hours; drain and pour into a pot with water to cover. Cook until the chickpeas are softened, about an hour; add the salt. Drain the chickpeas; set aside a 1/4 cup of the cooking liquid and puree half the chickpeas.
Chop together the garlic, rosemary and pancetta. Heat a little extra virgin olive oil in the pot used to cook the chickpeas and cook the pancetta mixture for a few minutes.
Add the pureed chickpeas, the whole chickpeas, the cooking water and the chopped chestnuts. Cook the mixture for 5 minutes, then add the diced tomatoes and the bay leaf.
Mix add the broth, stirring well; let the mixture simmer for 10 minutes over low heat. Remove the bay leaf before serving.
The Sbroscia of Lake Bolsena
Sbroscia is a stew of fresh fish from the lake. There are many species of fish that inhabit the lake: whitefish , eel , pike , tench , trout, perch and silversides are a few examples. Any combination of fish may be used in the recipe.
- Olive oil
- 1 tench (minnow family)
- 1 pike
- 1 eel
- 4 perch
- 1 onion, finely chopped
- 1 garlic clove, minced
- 2 large potatoes, diced
- 3 tomatoes, chopped
- Stale bread ( 3-4 slices per serving dish)
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, plus extra for drizzling
- Small bunch mint, chopped
- Crushed red pepper flakes
Cut the fish into serving pieces.
Heat two tablespoons of olive oil in a Dutch Oven or large soup pot. Add the garlic, mint and onion and cook until the onion softens.
Add the potatoes and tomatoes and saute for a few minutes. Add all the fish, 6 cups of water and salt to taste, cover the pan, and cook for 30-35 minutes.
Place 3 to 4 slices of bread in each serving bowl and pour in the stew. Drizzle with olive oil before serving.
The whitefish sauce is served with fettuccine or spaghetti.
- 1 whitefish, filled
- 1 onion, diced
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 1 cup white wine
- 3-4 peeled and chopped tomatoes
- Crushed red pepper flakes to taste
- Chopped parsley for garnish
- Cooked pasta
Saute the onion and garlic in a large skillet. Add the whitefish fillets and saute until cooked through. Break up the fish into smaller pieces.
Add the wine and cook until it evaporates. Add the fresh tomatoes and cook until no longer raw. Season with salt and the crushed red pepper.
Mix in the cooked pasta and garnish with chopped parsley.
Risotto with Perch Fillets
This risotto uses the freshwater perch in the starring role.
- 7 tablespoons butter, divided
- 2 cups risotto rice
- 1 small onion, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup dry white wine
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 1/2 cup grated Parmigiano cheese
- 4 cups broth (chicken or vegetable stock)
- 3 perch fillets (per person) – about 18 total
- Flour or bread crumbs for coating
In a heavy saucepan, heat 1 tablespoon butter until it melts. Add the chopped onion and cook until it is tender. When the onion becomes transparent, add the rice to the pot and mix it well. Let it cook for a couple of minutes. Then, add the wine to the pot. Mix the rice until the liquid evaporates, then add the broth, a small amount at a time, stirring it constantly to allow even absorption of the liquid. When the rice is just about tender, add the salt, pepper and cheese and allow to melt.
Meanwhile, to cook the fish – batter the fillets in the flour or bread crumbs and then cook the perch in batches in a hot skillet using some of the remaining butter. Turn the fillets over once and cook until each side is golden brown. Repeat with remaining fillets and butter.
Spoon the rice onto a serving dish and top with the fish fillets. Just a note to add an additional Italian twist to this risotto: heat some butter in a pan and add a handful of sage leaves. Let the butter melt and become infused with the herbs. When the risotto is ready to be served pou,r the butter sauce over the fish.
Sweet Rice Fritters (Frittelle di Riso)
Makes about 40
- 1/2 cup (100 grams) short grain rice (arborio)
- 2 cups (500 ml) milk
- Zest of 1 lemon or orange (or a mixture of both)
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- 1 1/2 teaspoons baking powder
- 1 pinch salt
- 2 tablespoons Italian dessert wine: Vin Santo
- 1/3 cup (40 grams) flour
- 2 large eggs
- Olive oil or vegetable oil for frying
Cook the rice in the milk, watching very carefully that it doesn’t burn or overflow – don’t take your eyes off it! You will need to stir it quite often to make sure it doesn’t stick and burn on the bottom. When the milk has been mostly absorbed and the rice is very soft, take the pan off the heat and add the citrus zest and sugar.
Set aside. Once completely cool, add the wine, eggs, baking powder, salt and flour. Combine thoroughly then cover and let the mixture rest for several hours or overnight in the refrigerator before using. The mixture may look quite runny, like a pancake batter.
Drop tablespoons of batter into hot oil, and fry, turning to cover all sides evenly until a deep brown. Transfer to paper towels to drain before rolling in powdered sugar. These are best eaten the day they are made.
Durante degli Alighieri, simply called Dante (1265–1321) was a major Italian poet of the Middle Ages. His Divine Comedy is widely considered the greatest literary work composed in the Italian language and a masterpiece of world literature.
Dante was born in Florence, Italy. The exact date of birth is unknown, although it is generally believed to be around 1265. This can be deduced from his autobiographical information found in the La Divina Commedia. It is in first section of the “Inferno” and begins, “Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita” (“Halfway through the journey of our life”), implying that Dante was around 35 years old, since the average lifespan was 70 years then. Some verses of the “Paradiso” section of the Divine Comedy also provide a possible clue that he was born under the sign of Gemini: “As I revolved with the eternal twins, I saw revealed, from hills to river outlets, the threshing-floor that makes us so ferocious”. In 1265, the sun was in Gemini approximately between May 11 and June 11.
The poet’s mother was Bella and she died when Dante was not yet ten years old. His father soon married again to Lapa di Chiarissimo Cialuffi and she bore him two children, Dante’s half-brother, Francesco, and half-sister, Tana (Gaetana). When Dante was 12, he was promised in marriage to Gemma di Manetto Donati, daughter of Manetto Donati, a member of the powerful Donati family. Contracting marriages at this early age was quite common and involved a formal ceremony, including contracts signed before a notary. But Dante had fallen in love with Beatrice Portinari (known also as Bice), whom he first met when he was only nine. Years after his marriage to Gemma, he claimed to have met Beatrice again and he wrote several sonnets to her but never mentioned Gemma in any of his poems. The exact date of his marriage is not known: the only certain information is that, prior to 1301, he had three children named Pietro, Jacopo and Antonia.
Not much is known about Dante’s education except that he studied either at home or at a school attached to a church or monastery in Florence. It is known that he studied poetry at a time when the Sicilian school (Scuola poetica Siciliana), a cultural group from Sicily, was a presence in Tuscany. His interests brought him to discover the poetry of the troubadours, such as Arnaut Daniel and the Latin classical writers, including Cicero, Ovid and especially Virgil. While still in his teens, Dante became involved with a group of poets, who would later be known as the founders of Dolce Stil Novo (Sweet New Style) poetry.
The Divine Comedy describes Dante’s journey through Hell (Inferno), Purgatory (Purgatorio) and Paradise (Paradiso), guided first by the Roman poet Virgil and then by Beatrice, the subject of his love in another of his works, La Vita Nuova. While the vision of “Inferno ‘ is vivid for modern readers, the theological concepts presented in the other books require a certain amount of patience and knowledge to appreciate. “Purgatorio”, the most lyrical and human of the three, also has the most poets in it; “Paradiso”, the most heavily theological with the most mystical passages.
With its seriousness of purpose, its literary stature and its range of content, The Divine Comedy, soon became a cornerstone in the evolution of Italian as an established literary language. Dante was more aware than most early Italian writers of the variety of Italian dialects and of the need to create literature with a unified literary language,in that sense, he is a forerunner of the Renaissance with its effort to utilize vernacular language.
Dante’s knowledge of Roman antiquity and his admiration for some aspects of pagan Rome also point toward to the 15th century. Ironically, while he was widely honored in the centuries after his death, The Divine Comedy slipped out of fashion among men of letters during his lifetime. It was considered too medieval, too rough and tragic and not stylistically refined in the respects that the Renaissance came to demand of literature.
He wrote The Divine Comedy in a language he called “Italian,” a literary language mostly based on the regional dialect of Tuscany, but with some elements of Latin and other regional dialects. He deliberately aimed to reach a readership throughout Italy, including laymen, clergymen and other poets. By creating a poem of epic structure and philosophic purpose, he established that the Italian language was suitable for the highest sort of literature.
Publishing in the vernacular language marked Dante as one of the first (among others such as Geoffrey Chaucer and Giovanni Boccaccio) to break free from standards of publishing in only Latin (the language of liturgy, history and scholarship in general, but also of lyric poetry). This break set a precedent and allowed more literature to be published for a wider audience, setting the stage for greater levels of literacy in the future. However, unlike Boccaccio, Milton or Ariosto, Dante did not really become an author read all over Europe until much later. Throughout the 19th century Dante’s reputation grew and solidified and, by 1865, he had become solidly established as one of the greatest literary icons of the Western world.
Dante is credited with inventing terza rima (a set or group of three lines of verse rhyming together) and chose to end each canto (sections of a long poem) of the The Divine Comedy with a single line that completed the rhyme scheme. The triple stanza likely symbolized the Holy Trinity and early enthusiasts, including Italian poets Boccaccio and Petrarch, were particularly interested in the unifying effects of the form.
Readers often cannot understand how such a serious work as The Divine Comedy can be called a “comedy”. The word “comedy” in the classical sense refers to works which reflect belief in an ordered universe, in which events tended toward not only a happy or amusing ending but one influenced by a divine will that orders all things to an ultimate good. Using this meaning of the word, Dante wrote in a letter, “the progression of the journey from Hell to Paradise made by the pilgrim is the expression of comedy, since the work begins with the pilgrim’s moral confusion and ends with the vision of God”.
Dante’s other works include Convivio (The Banquet), a collection of his longest poems with an (unfinished) allegorical commentary; Monarchia, a summary treatise of political philosophy in Latin which was condemned and burned after Dante’s death by the Papal Legate Bertrando del Poggetto, De vulgari eloquentia (On the Eloquence of Vernacular), on vernacular literature and La Vita Nuova (The New Life), the story of his love for Beatrice Portinari, who also served as the ultimate symbol of salvation in The Divine Comedy. The Vita Nuova contains many of Dante’s love poems written in Tuscan which was not unprecedented, since the language had been regularly used for lyric works before and during all the thirteenth century.
Due to the monumental influence that his work had on countless artists, Dante is considered among the greatest writers to have lived. As the poet T. S. Eliot wrote, “Dante and Shakespeare divide the world between them, there is no third.”
Dishes That May Have Been On Dante’s Table
The heart of Florentine cuisine is simple and abundant with local produce, mellow cheeses and grilled meats. Tuscans are also known for their appreciation of beans, especially white beans cooked with sage and olive oil. Beef Steak Florentine, roasted or wine-braised game such as boar, deer and rabbit and thick and hearty soups cover the table of a typical Tuscan meal. Plus this is the home of Chianti wine.
- Pinzimonio is a typical appetizer and can be varied according to the season and the availability of vegetables. The success of this simple and tasty dish depends on two elements: fresh, young ingredients and, above all, superb olive oil from the hills of Tuscany. The vegetables come with a small bowl containing the oil, salt and pepper into which you can dip the pieces of vegetables.
- Ribollita -Tuscan bread soup is a classic comfort food; it’s hard to think of any dish that’s more intimately associated with Florence than ribollita, a classic cabbage-and-bean soup that gains body and substance from a generous infusion of day-old Tuscan bread. The word ribollita literally translates as reboiled and for a ribollita to be authentic it must contain black-leaf kale, a long-leafed winter cabbage whose leaves are a purplish green and which has distinctive bitter overtones.
- Stracotto – actually means “overcooked”, but in fact it is a good description, as it is intended for the tougher cuts of meat which require long, slow cooking.
- Before the discovery of America and the importation of tomatoes, stracotto was cooked with agresto – a sauce made from crushed, tart grapes, boiled and flavored with cloves, cinnamon and the juice of a squeezed onion.
- Piselli novelli in casseruola – is a speciality in springtime when tiny, tender, sweet new peas are available. They are ideal not only with stuffed rabbit but also with roast pork, peppery stew and braised beef. The dish is simply new peas cooked with pancetta and seasoning.
- Casseruola alla fiorentina – Pasta or noodles are covered with a sauce of spinach, cream of mushroom soup, garlic, tarragon and marjoram and pieces of sausage, which is in turn covered with an egg and ricotta mix.
- Castagnaccio – Chestnut cake For many centuries chestnuts were part of the staple diet in mountainous and hilly areas and for the poorer classes in general as they provided an inexpensive form of nutrition. The original, Florentine version of castagnaccio is also known as migliaccio (black pudding) in some parts of Tuscany.
Rolled Bell Pepper Appetizer
- 6 red or yellow bell peppers (or a mix), cut into 1 inch wide strips (along the longest length, in order to have long strips)
- 1 lb ground beef or pork or turkey
- ¼ lb mortadella
- ¼ lb. prosciutto
- ½ cup fresh breadcrumbs
- 1 egg
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Extra-virgin olive oil
Preheat the oven to 375°F (190°C). Oil a baking dish.
To make cutting the bell peppers into strips easier, you can first soften them by placing 2-3 at a time inside a small plastic bag and heating them up in the microwave for 2-3 minutes. The vapor that forms makes them soft and easier to cut and clean.
Prepare the meat filling by pureeing the mortadella and prosciutto in a processor. Remove to a mixing bowl and add the bread crumbs and egg. Mix well. Add salt and pepper.
Spread some of the filling on the bell pepper strips with the back of a spoon. Take one end of the strip and roll it up. Fasten with one or two toothpicks.
Place the rolled up bell peppers flat on one layer, close to each other (you should see the meat filling from the top in the prepared baking dish.
Bake for 20-25 minutes or until tops of rolls are slightly browned. Remove and let cool 10 minutes before serving. They may also be served at room temperature.
Trippa Alla Fiorentina
Tripe is a type of edible offal made from the stomachs of various farm animals.
- 6 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 large celery, chopped
- 1 large carrot, chopped
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 2 pounds beef tripe, cleaned, pre-boiled* and cut into strips
- 1 (10 ounce) can peeled plum tomatoes, with juices
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano cheese
- Fresh chopped basil for garnish
*Precooking the tripe:
Trim any pieces of solid fat from the tripe and wash the tripe thoroughly under cold running water. Put it in a large pot and pour in enough cold water to cover by four to six inches. Add 4 bay leaves and bring to a boil over high heat. Adjust the heat to a gentle boil and cook for two hours. Pick out the bay leaves, drain the tripe and cool to room temperature
In a saucepan, heat the extra-virgin olive oil. Add the garlic, celery, carrot, and onion and saute until they are soft. Add the tripe and cook together on medium heat, for about 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes including the juices. Break up the whole plum tomatoes with a fork.
Let the mixture cook together until the sauce has reduced and thickened, about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat, season with salt and pepper, to taste, and add the freshly grated Parmigiano cheese and basil. Stir well and serve warm.
Piselli alla Fiorentina
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
- 3-4 oz diced pancetta
- 1 ½ pounds fresh or frozen petite peas
- 1 cup water
- ¼ teaspoon salt
- Freshly ground pepper
- 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
In a 2-quart saucepan, cook the olive oil, garlic and pancetta for 2-3 minutes, being careful not to brown the garlic.
Add the peas, water, salt and pepper and cook covered for approximately 15 minutes. Adjust salt and pepper, stir in parsley and serve.
Castagnaccio: Chestnut Flour Cake
- 14 ounces chestnut flour
- 2 tablespoons sugar
- Pinch salt
- 2 cups
- 4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 cup raisins
- 1/2 cup pine nuts
- Sprig fresh rosemary
- Zest of 1 orange
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.
In a mixing bowl combine the flour, sugar, salt, and water. Whisk the batter well until the batter is smooth.
Add the olive oil to a nonstick pie pan and heat in the oven for 5 minutes. Once the oil and pie pan are hot, add the batter. Smooth out the batter evenly.
Sprinkle the raisins, pine nuts, rosemary and orange zest on top.
Bake the cake for 10 to 15 minutes or until the top is golden.